Best of February 2005
Miles Traveled (in Altima)
88888. Logged near Lake Charles, La.
Most Beautiful Park Site Surroundings
The views of Little River Canyon N PRES near Fort Payne, Ala. dramatic gorge could not even be spoiled by rainy weather and a perpetual mist.
Most Beautiful View
Somewhere west of San Antonio, Texas. The sky gets bigger and bluer, there are more cacti and less traffic. The roads are straighter and the gas stations rare. The rolling hills get higher and you are in the West. It is not a specific place or view; it is a feeling, a feeling of openness and adventure. We first saw that view on the way to and at a friend’s goat ranch near Barksdale. What a wonderful sight.
Most Talked About Natural Phenomenon
The mysterious lights in Marfa, Tex. They got mentioned by everyone we met, except for host extraordinaire and expert on all things Texan, our friend Everett. We drove through and took a picture of the hotel that hosted the cast and crew of Giant but opted to stay in the cool town of Alpine, Tex. for the night.
Ugliest Park Site Surroundings
Fort Caroline NM, Jacksonville, Fla. Unless, of course, you like seeing a busy industrial seaport and smoke stacks on your nature walk.
Best Question to a Ranger
“Do you know the way to the San Jose Mission?” asked by Gab with a straight face at the San Antonio Missions NHP, Tex. Michael started giggling immediately. Gab didn’t get it until much, much later. Like, today.
Liveliest City Center
Both Austin, Tex. and Nashville, Tenn. live up to their reputations as Live Music City U.S.A. We side with Nashville as America’s Music Capital (everyone in town seems to be carrying a guitar) but with Austin as a more fun place to be.
Liveliest Town Center
Oxford, Miss. The charming town square was alive on Valentine’s Day with stunning coeds and their dates enjoying meals at its many fine restaurants. We took it all in from our perch on a restaurant’s second story outdoor balcony.
February 2nd in a driving rain. Starting in St. Augustine, Fla., we drove through Jacksonville, Fla., St. Marys, Brunswick and St. Simons Island, stopping to see four NPS sites along the way, before finally finding a warm and dry bed in Savannah, Ga, 291 miles from where we started.
Our 416-mile day from Lafayette, La. to Round Rock, Tex. on February 21st was technically the longest, but it was a great day. We arrived at 5:00 in Round Rock and had Texas BBQ with wonderful company; Michael’s cousin Alan and his family.
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, Atlanta, Ga. You know we love Jimmy. We had high expectations but found little more than surface explanations of significant events like the Camp David Accord and the Panama Canal Treaty. Even worse was the candy-coating summary of our 20th-century presidents. Jimmy’s most significant accomplishments may be occurring next door at the Carter Center, which is closed to the public.
Most Pleasant Surprise
The washer and dryer at the Courtyard Marriott in Lafayette, La. are FREE. Over a $10 savings for the freshly laundered Gab and Michael.
Most Unpleasant Surprise
Savannah, Ga. is kind of stinky. This beautiful town definitely emits an odor similar to boiled cabbage or a gas leak. Is there a paper mill nearby?
Most Unusual Place to Upload www.usa-c2c.com
Sitting in the ‘Tima outside of the coffee shop that had just closed in Marathon, Tex. We hadn’t had a connection in days and heading into Big Bend NP, we knew this would be our last chance. We missed coffee by minutes, but thankfully, this little shop kept their wireless connection on after closing time.
Highest Price for Gas
$2.11 on February 28th at the Shell, Marathon, Tex. We only purchased three gallons here, a necessity because we were headed southward into Big Bend NP where gas was even more expensive at $2.17 a gallon.
Lowest Price for Gas
$1.67 on February 16th at Zippy B’s, Jackson, Miss. We are already missing the Deep South’s cheap gas prices.
Most Out of the Way Site
Big Bend NP.
Most Scenic Drive (National Parks)
The Natchez Trace Parkway is every bit as beautiful as advertised. The road is the rural Deep South at its most picturesque.
Most Scenic Drive (Highways)
U.S. Route 385 South from Marathon, Tex. to the entrance of Big Bend NP. This rugged road tells you that you are about to see something spectacular.
Best Day Hike
The hike up the mountain at Kennesaw Mountain NMP, Ga., our first uphill climb since we left West Texas in November. The 1,000-foot elevation change was invigorating and a reminder of how much Texas BBQ, Southern cooking, Cajun food, bagels, etc… we have ingested since we left the west.
Most Vitriol Inducing Site
French Camp, Miss. Gab went into the little gift store alongside the Natchez Trace Parkway looking for an NPS passport stamp. She found a rotund store owner and her pudgy son all too willing to share their ugly opinions on the black population of Mississippi. After 10 minutes, Michael came in to rescue the open-mouthed, incredulous Gab who is still fuming over the incident.
Most Beautiful Capitol Building
Austin, Tex. Its rotunda is the only Capitol dome higher than the one in Washington, DC. Cheeky Texans.
Ugliest Capitol Building
Atlanta, Ga. We arrived on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, walked in the tourist entrance, put our camera onto the security tabled and prepared to walk through the metal detector. The two guards curtly said, “We are closed on weekends.” “But you are here and the doors are open,” we thought as we turned around, not wishing to anger the surly pair.
Best Local Cuisine
* Plate lunches at the Ajax Diner, Oxford, Miss. Michael had a sandwich stuffed with chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, cabbage and pickles while Gab enjoyed southern fried catfish, sweet potato casserole and black-eyed peas. It took all day to digest.
* Coffee and croissants in Lafayette, La. It’s hard not to like a city that loves their coffee strong and their bread hot and fresh every morning.
Most Expensive Cup of Coffee
$5 at Reynolds Plantation Ritz-Carlton, Greensboro, Ga. We didn’t get one, but we did try to sneak into the marriage retreat to get to their refreshments. It didn’t work.
Best Live Music
Our friend Richard’s jazz band’s intrepid 3-hour long performance at the Reynolds Plantation Ritz.
Best Opportunity to Test Michael’s “Jacket of the Year” (Worst Weather Day)
Even more rain on February 3rd in Savannah, Ga. Michael could not protect his camera’s lens from rain long enough to photograph the John Wesley Memorial at Fort Pulaski NM. Gab did not even get out of the car, unimpressed by the New World landing spot of the founder of the American Methodist Church.
Worst (but most entertaining) Acting in a National Park Service Film
John Ireland and the entire cast of This is Frederica at Fort Frederica NM, Ga. The script has Mr. Ireland, floating in and out of dialogues with other characters, knocking on imaginary doors of fort ruins and leaping decades of time in his explanations. We know we keep talking about this movie, but it was such a fun and quirky highlight on our Longest Day.
Note: By the time you read this, This is Frederica will be but a memory. Fort Frederica unveiled a new film on its anniversary weekend of Feb. 12, 2005.
Most Unexpected Local Pronunciation
* Kosciusko, Miss. Birthplace of Oprah Winfrey. The Kosciusko Town Visitor Center phonetically displays the correct pronunciation for the town, kah-zee-ESS-koh and the Polish hero, koh-SHOOSH-koh, who the town in named in honor of. But why are they pronounced differently? No one knew.
* Natchitoches, La. Somehow, Natchitoches, La. is pronounced NACK-uh-tish.
Huge ½ pounders at the Sports Page, Columbia, Tenn.
Best Giant Statue
The Road Runner in Fort Stockton, Tex. The first and the biggest of the birds we would see. Gab spotted her first real roadrunner just a few miles down the road.
Rio Grande Village, Big Bend NP, Tex. A birder’s paradise. We spent an entire day just wandering around with our binoculars and bird book. Mated-for-life pairs of Road Runners delighted us with the playfulness and nest building.
But beware, this campground fills fast in March and April, mostly with RVs. We were lucky to find a big grassy space, one of the only ones that wasn’t already reserved. Our space was so coveted that we had several visitors daily asking when we were leaving.
Rio Grande Village, Big Bend NP, Tex. See above.
Worst Driving Experience
Trying to take the Altima off-roading in Big Bend NP, Tex. Even though the ‘Tima Brava had earned her new nickname the day before crossing streams and dodging rocks on the way to a friend’s ranch in Barksdale, Tex. the 14-mile unpaved Maverick Drive proved to be too much for our trusty vehicle and Michael, the white-knuckled driver.
St. Augustine, FL • Jacksonville, FL • St. Marys, GA • Brunswick, GA • Savannah, GA • Tybee Island, GA • Macon, GA • Atlanta, GA • Greensboro, GA • Marietta, GA • Fort Payne, AL • Mt. Carmel, AL • Chattanooga, TN • Nashville, TN • Clarksville, TN • Columbia, TN • Corinth, MS • Tupelo, MS • Oxford, MS • Starksville, MS • Baldwyn, MS • Kosciuszko, MS • Jackson, MS • Vicksburg, MS • Epps, LA • Natchez, MS • Natchitoches, LA • Lafayette, LA • Round Rock, TX • College Station, TX • Austin, TX • Johnson City, TX • Fredericksburg, TX • San Antonio, TX • Barksdale, TX • Fort Stockton, TX • Marathon, TX • Big Bend, TX<
Fort Caroline N MEM • Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve • Cumberland Island NS • Fort Frederica NM • Fort Pulaski NM • Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. NHS • Kennesaw Mountain NBP • Chattahoochie River NRA • Little River Canyon N PRES • Russell Cave NM • Stones River NBP • Fort Donelson NB • Natchez Trace PKWY • Shiloh NMP • Brices Crossroads NB • Tupelo NB • Poverty Point SHS • Vicksburg NB • Cane River Creole NHP • George Bush Presidential Library and Museum • Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum • LBJ NHP • San Antonio Missions NHP • Big Bend NP